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Mini-Parks Growing Trend in DC; Parks Dep’t. Focus Increasing in that Direction

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the March 2019 issue pdf

By Larry Ray*

On Sunday, June 24, 2018, Mayor Muriel Bowser cut the ribbon on the Petworth Meditation Garden. This mini-park (or “parkette,”) is located at the intersection of 13th Street and Kansas Avenue, NW. The parkette focuses on meditation and relaxation, promoting wellness and health. Among her remarks at its dedication, the mayor said, “The Petworth Meditation Garden is an example how we can transform a small space into a tremendous community amenity. We thank the community for working with us to create such a unique and innovative space.”

As Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) Director Keith A. Anderson stated at the time in a press release, “We are excited about the new life that has been given to this lawn. This will be something residents will gravitate to and we are excited about turning some of our other small parks into mediation gardens.”

This garden has ADA-accessible, permeable paved paths throughout which allow for reduced rain water runoff. Amenities include a water spigot for the plantings, a drinking fountain for people and pets, bike racks, seating benches, and a vegetated buffer on the western edge along 13th Street.

Additionally, every morning at 6:30 free yoga sessions are conducted by Mary Mbaba, made possible through myFitDC,<> a program launched by Mayor in 2015 and managed by the District’s parks and recreation (DPR) and health (DOH) departments.

Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd told The InTowner that he “was proud to secure funding for and support the Petworth Meditation Garden.” Continuing, he said, “It is a vital and innovative recreation investment that I look forward to seeing replicated across Ward Four’s 20 neighborhoods and the District as a whole.”

But former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner 4C05 Zachary wonders expressed reservations: “ I think the idea was laudable but don’t see the park much in use. I’d be curious to see some data on how it’s being used now and how that varies with before. Perhaps warmer weather will bring more people to the space.”

DPR (parks and recreation department) oversees 900 acres of parks and 68 recreational facilities. This includes 25 outdoor pools, eight spray parks and 10 indoor pools. Parks were a major component of the city under the L’Enfant plan (1791). Antecedents of DPR date back to the 1901 McMillan Plan.

DPR also oversees other specialty parks, of which dog parks seem to attract the greatest public awareness. Of the several existing dog parks, one of the best known is Dupont East’s triangular space bordered by 17th and S Streets on the east and south, respectively, and New Hampshire Avenue on the north. Neighbors often refer to it as  “the no people park” since the fence design keeps non-dog people out of nearly three-quarters of the green space.

This may be one of the oldest and most well known dog parks. It has a high fence, Astroturf, good drainage and water access. Yelp reviews seem to be largely positive, though with some caveats, like the one posted on Yelp by Erika K:

“Nice park and I don’t mind the astro turf. They have little plastic pools you can use for your dogs on hot days. The biggest problem is that you have to keep a watchful eye on your dog because most owners don’t pay adequate attention to theirs. I have seen dogs get out of control quick so I watch my baby like a hawk. Also, people don’t pick up the dog poop around the perimeter where there is dirt. These areas also get very muddy on rainy days.

“It’s all one park — no separate areas for small/large dogs. The trash cans often get to overflowing which draws many flies around it. They have plenty of poop bags. It’s better than average.”

Farther uptown, in Columbia Heights, is a 7,355 square-foot undeveloped property owned by WMATA (Metro) which now is up for sale; asking price is $2.1 million. Several years ago former Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, at the urging of his constituents in the neighborhood, negotiated with Metro to allow that grassy lot with trees still standing to this day to be used as a community dog park. With the District presently considering purchasing the property, it would mean that its use would continue not only as a dog park but also be enhanced to serve as a gathering space.

This plan, however, could be controversial. Already at least one dissenting voice has come to the attention of The InTowner. In a posting on the February 16th Columbia Heights listserv, [email protected] had this to say:

“I have to apologize for not speaking up earlier and taking action on the 11th & Bark dog park fiasco. I did not really take seriously the prospect of a $2.7M plus dog park, until I read an article [ed. note: Washington Post, 5/14/18]<> identifying 5 alternative locations. The time and energy being wasted on this boondoggle is getting pretty silly, tortured and a little shameful. A lot of this has to do with the “you can have your cake and eat it too” nonsense coming from factions of the New Urbanist Smart Growth movement. And their role in Ward 1 becoming such a wasted opportunity, we deserve better from our leadership and ourselves. “Back to the dogs. There are really only two reasonable options for a dog park in the area of 11th & Bark Metro site, The Columbia Heights Green and Bruce Monroe Park and then only in the context of larger public space needs. And would in no way come at the expense of much needed affordable housing and other neighborhood needs as the current privilege and boondoggle driven approaches will. “I’ve learned a lot from former OP Director Harriet Tregoning and DDOT Director Gabe Klein, but there policies are nuts and their impacts on Columbia Heights counterproductive at best.  They have a lot to do with why almost 10 years later the Ward’s leadership is wasting time trying to come up with silly dog park ideas, while other public spaces crumble around us. They owe us an apology.”

The Shaw neighborhood also offers a dog park at 11th Street and Rhode Island Avenue along with a skate park just north at Q Street featuring generous space for roller bladers to test and hone their skills.

Noteworthy, also, is the small park at 11th and Monroe Streets which originally was the site of the early 20th century 11th Street streetcar line turnaround, and here is memorialized in the park’s design.

An especially noteworthy restoration of a triangular parkette is the one a few blocks north of Washington Circle bounded by New Hampshire Avenue on the west, M Street on the south, and 21st on the east. Named in honor of Duke Ellington, it was completely redesigned by the nearby sustainability architecture firm CallisonRTKL,<> transforming what had been an underused open space to a sustainable gathering place.

This project was made possible by a grant to the Golden Triangle Business District (BID) for its initiative from the DC Department of Energy and Environment (FDOEE).

The park’s 4,575 square feet now capture and treats water flowing from more than 10,000 square feet of existing untreated impervious surfaces, including surrounding street and sidewalk storm water runoff which is captured, retained and reused.

The rainwater runoff flows into the specially designed rain garden and permeable pavers, then into a 2,000 gallon underground tank where it is filtered for reuse through the irrigation system for sustaining the landscaping and trees, along with providing water for the decorative fountain. This is an example of the benefits of rainwater harvesting by means of bioretention.<>

Crispus Attucks Park has a unique history which explains why it is not part of DPR’s portfolio. The 1.6 acre parcel on the edge of the Bloomingdale neighborhood, accessible through the alley complex behind the unit blocks of U and V Streets,.NW. and the 2000 blocks of 1st and North Capitol Streets, N.W., this privately owned parcel was donated some 15 years ago by Verizon which had no need for the long-crumbling C&P telephone Company switching station on the site.

In February of 2004, the non-profit Attucks Development Corporation was created to support the transformation of this abandoned space into what is now a lovely park, named in honor of the man believed to have been the first casualty of the Boston Massacre, with a Memory Garden, yoga, yard sales, music, and movies.

Postings on Facebook have been positive, like that of Walter, who wrote, “This surprisingly quiet, tucked-away park provides much-needed green space . . .[a] relaxing place to read a book or have a picnic.” Also one from Jennifer: “Great space! Another DC secret that you just stumble into!”

By way of conclusion, as DPR Public Affairs Specialist Michael Tucker, Jr. told The InTowner, “Each of our park improvements are unique in their own right due to site history and site conditions.”

Larry Ray is former ANC Commissioner in Dupont Circle and later Columbia Heights. He is also Senior Adjunct faculty at The George Washington University School of Law.

Copyright © 2019 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Larry Ray. All rights reserved.